The America’s Cup – Fast Growing Grass

The America’s Cup – Fast Growing Grass

It’s been an interesting, disillusioning Sunday. Watching is definitely not as fun as doing, especially when it comes to sailing on TV vs sailing on the water.

This morning I watched NBC’s Courageous documentary. It’s an exceptionally well done history (imho) of the height of the America’s Cup. Lowell North, Ted Hood and of course the dynamic duo of Ted Turner and Gary Jobson. Really great sailors, dramatic personalities and politics and supremely beautiful boats. I tried to get my boys (aged 5 and 10) to get interested. Nope.

Maybe it was speed. 12-Meters just don’t like going more than about nine or so knots. So, let’s try the new America’s Cup following not coincidentally. The Kiwis just sailed away. The one or two interactions between the boats was barely enough to hold my interest, much less the boys’.

Then I watched the the Kiwis crush Team Oracle in another two races. A couple of close interactions, but for the most part the boats were very far apart and might well have been sailing on different continents. Most of the time only the panoramic views could get both boats in the same frame. My boys weren’t the least interested.

At the risk of sounding like I park dentures in a glass next to my bed every night, here goes my thoughts on the America’s Cup.

There’s a divide among sailors about the Cup. Some think the new version is great, some long for the days of 9 knot 12-Meters and a few are somewhere in between. The divide isn’t quite as big as Democrats vs Republicans, but it’s close.


Foiling is cool. 40 mph over the water is cool. The new tactics are cool enough. The scampering from one hull to another is cool. The on-screen graphics are cool. The crashes are cool (until somebody gets hurt).  The technology is cool.

Not Cool

The personalities are not cool compared to the days of Ted Turner, Ted Hood, Lowell North, Olin Stephens and even Dennis Conner. Not that today’s personalities are bad, they’re just held so under wraps by corporate obligations we don’t get to see them. The endless commercialization is not cool. If I see one more “Official Doo-Dad of the America’s Cup” type press release I think I’ll vomit. The wing sails are cool, and deadly efficient. The fact that few sailors are from the countries they ostensibly represent is not cool. The fact that the Northwest’s Paul Bieker is so key to the design and engineering is way cool.


And from my standpoint a few things are glaringly absent. Sail changes. Sail adjustment we can see (surely the trimmer is into the nuance of half a degree here or there, but hell if I can see it). Grace. Yes, they’re fast and in their own way beautiful, but I miss the grace of a well designed hull moving through the water, of one boat trying to lock into the wave pattern of another, of the shear power of a keelboat casting waves aside right and left as it crushes to weather.

And what’s missing from both the new and old Cups is, with some exceptions, close racing.

17/06/2017 – Bermuda (BDA) – 35th America’s Cup Bermuda 2017 – 35th America’s Cup Match Presented by Louis Vuitton- Race Day 1

Today’s obliteration of Oracle was like watching grass grow, as the saying goes. OK, it was like watching grass grow fast. The time differences on these 20 minute races were less than 2 minutes, but it sure seemed a lot further. The boats were more than 1/4 mile apart most of the time.

The Cup moments that most captured the public’s attention didn’t have anything to do with speed. Who could forget Turner’s ongoing antics of 1977. There was that entire summer of ’83 when we all wondered exactly what was under Australia II, and that moment when Alan Bond’s outstretched hands looked like they alone could lift A-II out of the water for all to see. And then there was Conner’s epic comeback when Stars & Stripes blew a headsail in the Fremantle Doctor, and the crew scrambled to quickly replace it. It was something that can and does happen on raceboats frequently, and we racers all just take that in stride, but in that case the public saw it happen. I remember non-sailing friends being impressed. Not speed. It was wind, waves and crew work.

Roger Vaughan has a very well considered piece that appeared in Scuttlebutt called I don’t Need a Helmet to go Sailing.

But as that tiresome phrase goes, it is what it is.

It is a new made-for-screen sporting product and those sailors and designers and media technicians have taken this new sport to amazing places. And it’s not going back. I’m viewing this year’s Cup as I would an intriguing new sport. I’ll try to understand the tactics and be impressed by the grinders’ efforts which are remarkable. I’ll watch the wing and the trimmer very carefully. I’ve gotten to the point were I can tell what tack boats are on even if I’m not always sure whether they’re heading “upwind” or “downwind.” I’ll root for the Kiwis because, well, they deserve to get it back and that country truly respects sailing.

There’s one thing about the new Cup I really don’t like, and it’s is what Roger Vaughan was getting at: The new Cup is not the sailing I love and that I’d love to see more people doing. The Cup is not really getting that much attention from the mainstream media. Just ask your non-sailing friends if they have any idea it’s going on. And I’m afraid that even if someone gets turned on by these cool cats, they’ll be highly disappointed when they go to a sailing school or community sailing center and face a ponderous but safe sailing class boat they’ll turn away disappointed.

As a kid sailing around the harbor I could imagine my little O’Day 7/11 dinghy was Intrepid. I’m not sure today’s kid in a Bic O’pen can make the imagination leap to an AC cat. Tell me if I’m wrong.

In the meantime I’ll see if Spithill and company can come up with another epic comeback. If he does, I hope the races are close. I don’t care if they’re going at a fast walking pace.

Lessons Learned for Charles Wright at High School Nationals

Lessons Learned for Charles Wright at High School Nationals
FJs on the Charles River (not from this regatta, however)

Remember when we reported that our friends on the Charles Wright High School Sailing Team were headed back east for the high school nationals? Well, they went, they saw, but they didn’t quite conquer, finishing 20th/20.  That said, spirits were high as it was yet another building block adding onto the high school sailing scene here. And there were many positives worth noting. Again, we have Charles Wrights’ Alyosha Strum-Palerm with some “embedded” reporting:

“We had low expectations going into the event. NWISA (Northwest District Interscholastic Sailing Association)  has been a historically weaker district on national regattas due to its relative young age, lower funding, and generally smaller size. Saturday was a tough day vs the larger teams with subs etc..  Sunday(races 15-20) was much better for me, averaging an 11 score over those 6 races.

“The “A” division was so incredibly deep. Everyone had high level boat handling and boat speed so if you made one mistake four boats would pass you. If you got on the wrong end of a shift then half the fleet would pass you. With the frequency and drama of shifts on the Charles, that was the key factor of the weekend. Teams who got consistent good starts had a much easier time of picking their lanes and sailing where they wanted. Everyone else had to pick through chopped up air and second choice lanes and shifts.

Alyosha contributed this photo from the weekend. Looks a bit Northwest-like.

“It was incredible to compete against the best in the country and being in the mix on Sunday was an awesome experience. Hopefully in the next 5-10 years we will have built the culture here in the Northwest to the point where we can compete with the Southern California and east coast teams. Lots of new, young, and motivated coaches are really helping to push the district into a more prominent position in ISSA.”

Support Our Kids!

I’ll just add that we as a sailing community here need to do more to support high school sailing in the area. The scene is active and exciting and the kids are having a blast. That’s all good. But if we want them to do well on the national scene, and graduate kids into high-power university programs, they need more support. While support can mean simply writing checks, there are other ways to help as well like volunteering, donations etc. On a personal note, if you catch wind of a high school regatta near you, go see it. Once you do, it’ll be hard not to offer some kind of support. As Alyosha says, “more involvement from the racing culture is what drives youth programs.”

Earlier today I published a post on the UW Sailing Team, which is headed to South Carolina for the college Nationals women’s and coed doubles at the end of this month. Good luck to them!

A general report and the results from the Mallory Cup, won by Point Loma, can be found here. There was actually live video coverage of the events, and those video links are available on this page.




UW Sailing Team Goes to Nationals

UW Sailing Team Goes to Nationals

The University of Washington Sailing Team certainly has a storied history, and it’s good to see it continues to make history. The UW Sailing Team has qualified for both the women’s fleet Collegiate Nationals and co-ed Nationals, which will be hosted by the College of Charleston May 22-June 2 in South Carolina.

I had a quick chat with team member Cassidy Lynch, who will be traveling to South Carolina later this month. “We have about 20 team members,” she reports. “And we’re sailing for the most part without coaches. A few of the alumni come by and give us some coaching,” she added.

The University of Washington Team

The racing is primarily in FJs, with the occasional J/22 used in match racing. For the last several years, the team has been on a roll. They were so confident they’d qualify for Charleston that they contemplate booking flights ahead of time. But of course the nature of college sports is athlete turnover. “We were a little worried when some of the good seniors graduated,” Lynch says, “But some very talented freshmen joined the team so we’ll continue to be strong. Lynch herself is from the Bay area.

I’m hoping to get some reports from the team as they sail Nationals. And, personally, I’d sure like to see “our” team do well out there. I’m a little tired of seeing the college rankings disregard what’s happening out here!

The UW Sailing team has a Facebook page and a web site.

Go Dawgs.

David Brink Races to Havana

David Brink Races to Havana

It’s fun to see Seattle sailors head out to far flung destinations, and Havana, Cuba is still pretty far flung. Thanks to the efforts of the last Administration, sailors are once again racing to Havana. Even Seattle sailors!

David Brink got one of those great calls from Jamie Stewart looking for a bowman. The boat was Raisin’ Cane, a J/125 owned by Frank Atkinson that Stewart had been sailing with. A Havana Race is not an opportunity to turn down.

Raisn’ Cane

The race itself included a lot of reaching, and Cane was third to finish after the Andrews 70 Simon Says and the Class 40 Dragon. Cane corrected out to second in class and third overall.

Racing aside, the attraction of this race has got to be Havana, and Brink was duly appreciative. After resting and recovering for a day, the crew hired a taxi to show them the sites. They all piled into “René”s 1954 Chevy Coupe (yes, they really exist down there!) and got the tour.

“It’s a whole different world,” Brink explains. “After the tour we went to a bar and we asked René some personal questions, like how much does the government pay and things like that. He really opened up. It made me happy to live in the U.S. We have so many opportunities here.”

“Havana is very, very cool,” Brink says. “I say sign up for the race soon if you can. In five years it will be a total tourist trap.”

And if you think scoring a ride is impossible, consider that one of the crew members on Cane had never sailed on the boat before was found by the skipper on the crew list put out by the race organizer.

Brink and Stewart are sailing on Cane in this year’s Transpac Race. I hear Honolulu’s not a bad place for a race to finish in its own right.

Bieker on Fujin

Bieker on Fujin

The stories, videos and photos of the Paul Bieker-designed catamaran Fujin keep flying across my computer screen. It absolutely screams for attention! Paul Bieker designed Fujin, and below provides some very keen insight into his process (plus some very cool flow dynamics images!) We’re honored that Paul shares it.

Despite Fujin’s current residence in the Caribbean, it’s really a Pacific Northwest effort. Owner Greg Slyngstad is well known here for his racing campaigns. And a regular path has been beaten to the Caribbean to get Fujin flying. Jonathan and Charlie McKee, Erik Bentzen, Brian Huse, Scott Smith, Jack Christiansen and Fritz Lanzinger have all been onboard at one time or another.

(Photos have been pulled from Facebook and other sites)

It should be no surprise that there’s been plenty of success on the racecourse. She won the Round the Rock race at the St. Thomas International Regatta and placed a close second in the regatta itself. She tied for first in the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta’s Offshore Multihull Class. Unfortunately a slow Caribbean 600 and flight schedules forced Fujin to retire 120 miles from the finish.

We’d love to get some reports from onboard, but in the meantime let’s hear from Bieker, who took time from his somewhat-more-than-full-time responsibilities as Lead Design Engineer with Oracle Racing. Here’s Paul:

Greg came to us after the last America’s Cup asking for a cruising/racing catamaran for sailing in the Caribbean. 

Paul Bieker

We designed the boat with what I think are pretty innovative bow shapes partially inspired by the shapes I saw sailing in Polynesia as a teenager and partially inspired by what I have learned about hull shapes in the 14’s. The lower bow is pretty full and chined to produce more lift and to reduce wetted surface when going fast.  We kept the chine angle in profile fairly steep to help insure that it has a positive angle relative to the waterline when trimmed bow down into a moderately big wave (I have found you can “trip” over chines if they are too flat in profile). We used one of our Americas Cup contacts, Len Imas to do the computational fluid mechanics to optimize the hull shape for a range of speeds and trimming moments. The upper bow and freeboard are cut away as much as possible to reduce windage and weight.  We gave the rudders horizontal wings to help control pitching. The boat has been sailed with and without them and they seem really effective in settling out the trim of the yacht.

Most of these performance cruising cats are compromised by the weight and windage of full standing room cabin between the hulls. The arrangement of Fujin uses a mid wet deck “pod” to provide headroom for a central low profile community space where the galley, settee and navigation station are located.  The private spaces are in the hulls with each hull having a large double berth and head.

We employed another friend from our Americas Cup work, Steven Roberts to do the platform and rig structural design.  His structure for Fujin is a step above other boats of the type and hence Fujin is significantly lighter.  She is entirely carbon/epoxy/foam structure.  The builders, Gold Coast Yachts, did a great job building the boat to the structural specifications and she has proven to be structurally sound.

Now, America’s Cup stuff may have dominated Bieker’s energies for a long time, but I personally feel that his greatest efforts have been in creating innovative dual purpose yachts. Fujin is obviously one, but I’d say Jonathan McKee’s Darkstar is certainly another and my personal favorite is Longboard. Anybody looking for a truly innovative, reliable and structurally sound design would do well to talk to Bieker.


Update: Jack Christiansen of North Sails Seattle, one of the NW luminaries aboard Fujin, just shared some videos: